The lead article in the Page Six column of
The New York Post May 31, 1997 reported on the exclusive
Chinagate stories in The City Review zine on the Internet
about controversies over the attribution of paintings in the Chinese
Paintings department of the Metropolitan Museum.
What was particularly interesting were the
comments, in reaction to questions from The New York Post,
of Maxwell Hearn, the curator of Chinese Paintings at the museum.
Acknowledging "anxiety," he defended the museum's Chinese
Art holdings by stating that "We've had the finest scholars
from mainland China come through and they, to a man, say we have
one of the greatest collections of Chinese paintings outside of
Not the most important and nothing specific
about whether all such experts from China agreed on all the attributions.
Given the brevity of the item, which was as big as they get on
Page Six, perhaps the most famous "gossip" column in
the world of journalism, perhaps Mr. Hearn's comments were not
reported in full, but nonetheless constituted a less than flat
denial of the "problems."
Indeed, the comments of Mr. Hearn, who has
worked for many years with Wen Fong, the Princeton University
professor who has coordinated most of the museum's Chinese Art
acquisitions since the early 1970's and is the museum department's
"consultative chairman," did not constitute a flat denial.
It did, however, throw down the gauntlet to
distinguished experts and authorities, such as Sherman Lee, the
former director of the Cleveland Museum of Art who happens to
have been one of the most celebrated museum directors in the country,
the author of the leading text book on Asian Art and one of three
outside experts asked by the Metropolitan to "vet" the
1973 Wang acquisition. Mr. Hearn maintained, according to The
New York Post Page Six article, that "Because Western scholars
are not familiar with calligraphy, people as famous as Sherman
Lee doubted their authenticity."
One wonders what the very distinguished scholars
and experts quoted extensively in The City Review articles
would think of such a cavalier dismissal and the charge that they
were not familiar with calligraphy!
Mr. Hearn's comment in The New York Post
article that scholars are now familiar with the style of Chang
Ta-Ch'ien, a self-professed forger of Chinese painters, and can
pick out his forgeries is intriguing since it is not clear whether
"now" implies that scholars were not familiar in 1973
when the museum made its first major acquisition from C. C. Wang.
It is also unclear whether he meant to imply that said scholars
have indeed picked out his forgeries and whether any of them are
at the Metropolitan and/or in the C. C. Wang collections.
Perhaps he meant to state that the museum's
understanding and expertise on the subject is supreme and that
all other experts and interpretations are wrong. Such a statement
conceivably could be right, but strains reason considerably. In
any event, most scholarly publications by museums indicate the
opinions of various experts in the field on specific works of
art and it will be interesting to see whether the museum's future
publications and catalogues on its Chinese Paintings and the C.
C. Wang collection in particular will include such comments, a
great many of which are at odds with its own interpretations,
a matter of not inconsequential concern in the art market and
in the world of appraisals for insurance and Internal Revenue
The City Review
will be happy to print the full comments of the Metropolitan Museum
on its Chinagate stories if it receives them, and, of course,
welcomes other comments. E-Mail can be directed to The City
Review from its home page, see below.
The Page Six article was also "posted"
on The New York Post's own World Wide Web site on the Internet,
which is http://www.nypostonline.com/saturday/page6/page61.htm.
What follows is the complete Page Six banner
headline and full lead story:
by RICHARD JOHNSON
with SEAN GANNON and Jeanne MacIntosh
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is hailing the
gift of 11 Chinese paintings from the collection of C.C. Wang
as one of the most important acquisitions in the museum's history.
But Carter Horsley, editor of the City Review, an Internet
magazine, suggests that the Met take a closer look at the artwork.
When the museum bought an earlier batch of
25 paintings from Wang in1973, Horsley, then a New York Times
reporter, wrote a story that raised troubling questions about
the attributions of a number of the works. Horsley says that the
edited version of the story minimized the criticisms. "The
full story has never come out," Horsley wrote in a recent
Horsley added that the Wang episode of 1973
involves "at best, a cover-up and at worst one of the greatest
scandals in art history." The Times' handling of the story,
he insisted, was "a severe tarnish" on the reputation
of the newspaper.
According to Horsley, "Many experts were
aghast" at the 1973 purchase not only because of questions
of attribution but also because some art experts believed the
collection included several paintings by Chang Ta-Ch'ien (also
spelled Zhang Daquin), "the self-professed greatest forger
in the history of art." Chang Ta-Ch'ien, who died in 1983,
was also a prominent collector and friend of Wang's.
Several experts felt that as few as perhaps
five or six of the 25 Wang paintings were important. Horsley,
who once wrote for The Post, quoted the venerable Sherman Lee,
then at the Cleveland Museum of Art, describing one of the paintings
as "a dog."
But Maxwell Hearn, curator of Chinese
paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, attributed "anxiety"
about the Wang paintings to lack of training in Chinese brushwork
among Western scholars. "Because Western scholars are not
familiar with calligraphy, people as famous as Sherman Lee doubted
their authenticity," he said.
As for Chang Ta-Ch'ien, the forger, Hearn says
that scholars are now familiar with his style and can pick out
The museum is purchasing the new Wang paintings
with money of an undisclosed amount given by New York financier
Oscar L. Tang.
"We've had the finest scholars from mainland
China come through and they, to a man, say we have one of the
greatest collections of Chinese paintings outside of China,"
director of the museum at the time of the original purchase, praised
Wang's connoisseurship in his 1993 memoir, "Making the Mummies
Dance." "The Riverbank," a landscape painting in
the new batch, is said to be so valuable that Wang considered
trading it for his son, who remained behind in China, but the
younger Wang got out on his own.